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It's Good To Be Home

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Thanks to emailer Chris for another article inspiration:

I was telling my friend that hockey is one of the few [the only?] sports where the rules state that the home team gets an advantage -- line changes and face-offs. Since the home team gets to put their stick down last for a faceoff, does the home ice advantage help, hurt, or make no difference to the "good face off" men?

Besides hockey, certainly baseball rules give the home team an advantage by batting last, but outside of that, you're right, most sports do try and stay neutral in terms of home & visitor play. To answer Chris's question, I used the Game Summary files from the 2005-06 season, as well as the first 730 games of this season (give or take a couple games) to determine overall faceoff win percentages for the home and visiting team, broken down by location on the ice:

FO Win% 2005-06

Vis Home
Offensive 49.29% 52.41%
Defensive 47.59% 50.71%
Neutral 49.95% 50.05%
Total 49.00% 51.00%

FO Win%, Current Season

Vis Home
Offensive 47.73% 52.08%
Defensive 47.92% 52.27%
Neutral 48.77% 51.23%
Total 48.19% 51.81%

Interestingly, we do see a slight dominance by the home team here, that persists from one season to the next. Given an average of roughly 60 faceoffs per game, this translates into a couple extra draws per game being won by the home team. So, Chris, indeed, it seems like the home team does enjoy a benefit in the faceoff circle.

Before we get too excited, however, it should be noted that faceoffs don't seem to be hugely important through most of the game. Javageek over at Hockey Numbers demonstrated that "quick goals" (occuring within 8 seconds of a faceoff) are pretty rare, and I'd tend to agree with that analysis, as at least for a short while after a faceoff, players on the defensive side should be in good position (they haven't had time to make mistakes yet). What I really need to do is revive some of my prior FO work to look at actual shooting percentage versus what Shot Quality would predict. For example, Javageek notes that shooting percentage in the 8-second window is about half the norm, but if most of those shots are 50- to 60-foot slappers, that's not really out of line. I'll see if I can dig into that issue and provide an update in the next couple days...

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